Fat racism

Elizabeth Schuett

November 04, 1993|By Elizabeth Schuett

I HATE racism," Andy's paper reads. He has chosen his essay topic "racism" from a list I put on the board this morning.

"It's not fair to be racist against fat people or girls either. People can't help being fat or girls," he argues.

This is where I slap my hand to my forehead and mutter to myself, "Why didn't I suggest they look up their topic in the dictionary first?" Not every eighth grader in our village fully understands the basics of racism, much less the implications.

"Your essay is well done, Andy," I tell him as I roll up beside his desk. The kids tease me about hooking up a motor to my desk chair so I can whip around the room faster.

"Thanks, Ms. Schuett. That's because I really know about this racism stuff." Andy is anxious to share. "I have a fat sister and some people make fun of her. It really hurts her feelings."

He wrinkles up his forehead, drawing his blond eyebrows together. "It makes me mad when people say dumb racist things about her because she helps me with my chores and never yells or calls me names."

I'm stalling, waiting for the right moment to point out the difference between prejudice and racism. Andy's the quiet kid who never talks in class and now that he's rolling I hate to stop him.

"Maybe it's just baby fat that she'll outgrow," I say trying to cheer him up. "That's what usually happens."

"I don't think so. She's 20."

I roll back to the front of the room. It's time for a different approach. "Excuse the interruption, but we need to talk for a minute." Some faces register relief for a momentary reprieve from what they consider "teacher torture" -- writing. A few are annoyed because I've broken the flow of ideas from brain to hand to paper.

"When we talk about 'racism,' what comes to mind?" I ask. I'm fishing now because I'm not really sure which direction to take and how far to go. So what's new? That's teaching, isn't it?

John's hand flies up first, just like it always does. Tim looks puzzled. Mike doesn't really care and Kathy looks bored. She always does.

Andy volunteers his theory on "fat racism" but Sandy disagrees. "Racism is when people hate other people for their differences." She's pretty sure she's right because Nicky just whispered the answer to her, and Nicky's good with this "think about it" stuff, as the kids like to call our classroom chats.

"Sandy's right," Leslie hollers over the others. "I saw racism the other day when we were dressing up for homecoming week." He's gotten everyone's attention, including mine. I can't even guess what's coming next.

"Remember Thursday when it was 'Dress Like the Opposite Sex Day'?" he asks. ". . . and Coach wouldn't let the football team wear dresses?" Tim and Ryan snicker. They're on the eighth-grade football team and had to wear shirts and ties while the other boys donned pink fright wigs and made tasteless jokes they stuffed balloons in the fronts of their sisters' borrowed sweaters.

4 "Can you clarify your statement, Leslie?" I ask.

"I asked Coach why we couldn't dress up and he said, 'If you dress like 'em, you'll play like 'em'."

Amy, our resident women's libber, snaps to attention and yells, "That's sexist, not racist! What a rotten thing to say. I'm going to tell the rest of the cheerleaders, and maybe we won't cheer for the football games any more."

I've decided to let this one ride for the moment. I agree with Amy. It's time for Coach to pay his dues.

We'll try racism again on Monday.

Elizabeth Schuett, a teacher and writer, wrote this for Cox News Service.

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